Former Flight Attendant turned Psychotherapist Speaks on the Psychological Health of Airline Crew

Cracks in the Cover-Up

by Helen Davey, Psychoanalyst, Psychotherapist (and former Pan Am Flight Attendant),

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The recent very public emotional meltdown of a JetBlue pilot — just weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant broke down in front of passengers waiting for take-off — has many people wondering about the psychological health of pilots and flight attendants. What is going on with the employees in our airline industry?

As a former Pan Am flight attendant for 20 years, and now a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst for 25 more, I’ve been writing at length to sound the alarm about the decline of the American airline industry. In particular, I’ve discussed the traumatic emotional consequences to employees due to the massive changes they’ve had to endure.

In addition to ensuring the safety of passengers, pilots and flight attendants understand that their major role is to create the illusion of the flight crew’s emotional invincibility. In other words, they reinforce the denial of death. This is what I mean by the words “cover-up.” On board every aircraft are passengers who wonder how in the world this huge machine can actually fly. Moreover, they depend upon the comfort of knowing they have a fearless and confident crew taking care of them. Not always an easy task for the flight crew…… continued